Redefining the range of interior and exterior applications for tiles

Redefining the range of interior and exterior applications for tiles

October 2017

TSJ’s Editor, Joe Simpson, analyses the latest design trends on display at Cersaie 2017: a show that challenged the perception of ceramic tiles and offered an insight into an exciting future of fresh opportunities and new applications.

ersaie 2017, thanks to an increase in both foreign and Italian visitors, attracted a total audience of 111,604 this year, an increase of 4.7% compared to 2016.  The Bologna event, which ran from 25th to 29th September, also confirmed its position as the key reference for the global ceramic tile market, in an event enriched by initiatives that involved the world of architecture, interior design, media, commerce and, even, Italian domestic consumers.

Perhaps signalling an improvement in the overall global economic situation, Italian foreign visitor numbers grew by 5.0%, to reach 58,422; while foreign visitor numbers were up 4.3% to 53,182, with attendees drawn from almost every country in the world.  The global media presence was also impressive, with a total of 922 press delegates in attendance, of which 506 were Italian and 416 from other countries.

Cersaie 2017 was not just a tile exhibition.  Besides ceramic tiles, there was also a significant array of wood, marble and natural stone exhibitors, together with other important components of the ceramic industry, such as tools, shipping agents, adhesives, grouts, sealants and cleaning materials.

In total, Cersaie occupied an area of ​​156,000 sq. metres, with 869 exhibitors from 41 different countries, 17 more than in 2016.  The number of foreign exhibitors, at 323, represented almost a third of the total.  In total there were 457 exhibitors from the ceramic tile sector.

The value-added events staged alongside Cersaie proved paticularly popular this year, with strong participation recorded across the impressive programme of architectural conferences.  For instance, Fabio Novembre’s Lesson Lesson presentation was attended by over 1,300 students.

The Milleluci exhibition in Pavilion 30, and the training seminars for architects held at the The City of Pose, both drew large crowds, although mainly from the host nation.

Organised for the sixth year running as part of an effort to strengthen business relations between Cersaie’s exhibitors and international buyers and specifiers, the Cersaie Business project attracted delegations from leading architectural and contract furniture firms during the five days of the show.  This year Cersaie was attended by around a hundred key players from countries in the Gulf region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iran; as well as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and the USA.

Cersaie Business helped promote meetings between these top buyers and the exhibitors.  More than 40 companies welcomed delegations to their stands, with a total of more than 120 visits organised over the five days of the show.

This strategic initiative aimed to attract the interest of leading architecture and interior design firms by promoting networking activities between exhibitors and these important international players.  The choice of target markets was hardly a coincidence.  As well as being the largest importers of Italian ceramic tiles, these countries are also home to some of the most influential design firms in the planet.

Delegates also took part in institutional events held during Cersaie and had the opportunity to visit production facilities in Sassuolo, and also explore major local attractions.

The Italian and international tiling world was on show at Tiling Town in Area 49.  Tiling Town featured five work-in-progress areas where classic tiling techniques - flatness, substrate preparation, bathroom preparation, adhesive application, and floating façades - were demonstrated.  There was also an additional area for demonstrating some highly topical installation techniques for large ceramic panels.  Every day, Tiling Town also hosted technical seminars for designers about these large panels, with two hours of theory and two hours of practical workshop experience, with CPD credits available.

Tiling Town also hosted a variety of official and professional meetings, including those with the Federation of European Tile Fixers (EUF) and its USA equivalent, the TCNA (Tile Council of North America).

A large space inside Area 49 was occupied by Assoposa (The National Association of Tile Laying Companies and Technicians), whose master tile installers demonstrated how to install large and thin panels, and other interior and exterior applications.

Finally, by way of eye-candy, Tiling Town also featured a large sphere, covered in ceramic tiles, designed by architect Valentino Scaccabarozzi.

Top ceramic tile design trends
With such a strong pool of Italian and international exhibitors, it was no surprise that Cersaie 2017 proved to be an impressive event from the design standpoint.  Overall, the quality of design and technical performance, was superb.  While it was not an event that saw a significant style shift, it did reveal several interesting, and potentially significant, market developments.

The first of these was that many of the Italian exhibitors made a point of presenting matching white body floor tiles alongside porcelain floor tiles.  For the past decade or more, most of the top end factories have been happy to concentrate on technical and design innovations in porcelain tiles.  However, this does mean that many domestic installations are over specified.  Few domestic kitchens or bathrooms really need the frost resistance, impact resistance or wear resistance of porcelain.  And there is an obvious negative impact, in terms of the requirement to use modified adhesive; as well as the obvious problems in cutting and, paticularly, drilling porcelain tiles to accommodate plumbing and central heating pipework.

Well, it looks as though these high end factories have got the message.  On stand after stand, the TSJ team (Joe Simpson, John Passmore and Rita Giovannini) were sold the benefits of porcelain floor tiles matched with identically-designed ‘easy to fit’ white body wall tiles.  It was, I have to say, music to our ears.

But the change in marketing emphasis did not end here.  The other dominant message coming from the leading manufacturers concerned new applications for the current generation of mega-tiles or gauged ceramic panels, as the Americans now term them.  With Continua, Supera and Lamgea continuous pressing systems opening up the outer limits of tile production to 1,600 by 4,800mm sheets, the definition of tile - and its potential applications - are moving forward at quite a pace.

On stand after stand, wall and floor tiles were shown alongside kitchen worktops, bathroom vanity tops, tile-clad furniture, tables with one-piece ceramic tops, and more.  This was also true of factories, like Grespania, who have in-house Laminam plants.  Once again, this 3mm material is now being produced in the same designs as porcelain floor tiles and white body wall tiles.  The all-over monolithic tiled look is now totally achievable.  And some of the worktops and furniture produced using these ceramic sheets were superb.  Through-bodied porcelain can also be mitred or machined as required.  Many companies specialising in natural stone worktops must be looking over their shoulders!  Today’s ceramic tile factories can not only compete on size and price, but digital printing technology means that simulations of really fragile stones, or minerals rarely found in large enough seams for a one piece worktop, can now be simulated in a material with better technical performance, especially in areas such as maintenance needs, and stain- and scratch-resistance.

And it doesn’t end here.  Again it has taken too long, but nearly all of the leading tile factories have now woken up to the potential of two markets that TSJ has long championed: 20mm exterior tiling, and ventilated ceramic façades.

On the landscaping front, most of the major names had dedicated areas on their stands for 20mm exterior grade tiles in a range of slip-resistance finishes; suitable for both domestic and high traffic commercial applications.  The design options have increased, with wood-, concrete-, and stone-effect tiles, rubbing shoulders with some more decorative and unexpected options.  At Cersaie 2017, it is fair to say, exterior tiling finally came of age.  

These 20mm tiles were frequently shown in concert with different fixing methods, from height-adjustable pedestals, right through to dry laying like granite sets or concrete slabs.
Less prominently, many different façade options were also on display, from the small format ceramic equivalent of shiplap on the Agrob Buchtal stand, right through to sleek contemporary skins fashioned from secret-fix thin porcelain sheets.

Interestingly, some factories were also displaying adhesive-fixed ceramic façade options; long an architectural staple in countries like Portugal.  UK specifiers may take some persuasion here, but recent advances in adhesive technology means that this is certainly a viable option for low rise properties in the UK.  It remains to be seen if it will catch on, but it is currently proving to be a fruitful area of research for tile manufacturers.

Black is the new black
Greenery may be the Pantone colour of the year, and forecasters are predicting great things for peachy neutrals like Amadeus in 2018, but as far as tile manufacturers are concerned, black is the new black.  True black, saturated black, absolute black ... call it what you will, but deepest true black was the accent colour of choice at Cersaie 2017.  It appeared as a textured finish in basalt-effect tiles, as a luxurious gloss in tiles emulating nero marquina and other black marbles, or as a simple glazed tile.  There was even pure black wood grain tiles; a contemporary painted timber-effect tile on-trend with today’s interior styles.  And, of course, where there is black there is also white.  And Cersaie was awash with white faux marbles inspired by carrara, statuario, calacatta, volakas, thassos, colorado yule, afyon, sivec, mugla and the rest.

It terms of coloured wall tiles, it seems as through the rich, greyish pastels of the 1950s are now the hottest hues out there.  These range from blues and greens, which lead the popularity stakes, but include shocking reds with a hint of grey, and even dusky yellows, pinks and restrained purples.

What really stood out in the colour arena is that the leading manufacturers are now taking great efforts to colour balance their ranges, by using complementary palettes across seemingly disparate collections.  This means that a white body wall tile with a sculpted 3D form will sit happily against an aged wood-effect, or polished concrete style floor tile.  

And, again, this was something drawn to TSJ’s attention on countless stands.  For the factories, of course, this makes great commercial sense.  Not only does it create more harmonious displays, but it also encourages distributors to buy more ranges from one company’s portfolio.  It is a clever and effective strategy.  Of course, like any good idea in the tile sector, competitive advantage is short lived.  But this is a very welcome trend.

The terrazzo-trencadis trend explodes
At the last few trade fairs the reinvention of terrazzo, or the stracciatella look, has been a major trend.  Cersaie 2017 firmly underlined this.  While few of the designs reached the heights of the early pacesetter, Peronda’s FS Ofelia collection, there were some very impressive new terrazzo-style ranges in Bologna.  Right across the interior design field, this look is being used to decorate things that have never been decorated in this way before, from bathrooms and kitchens to accessories and even textiles.

Originally terrazzo was a construction material made from stone chips set in concrete, and then polished to a smooth finish.  It was first used in Venice in the mid-15th century as a way of using left over pieces from marble installations. Today, the term is used to cover all surfaces decorated with variously-sized particles bonded together.

With digital decoration, tile designers can interpret terrazzo in many different ways.  As well as the classic look much favoured in UK supermarkets and Italian colonnades, today’s fragmented tile designs span the trencadis style through to surfaces peppered with miniscule particles, often referred to as ‘salt and pepper’.

The latest collections of ceramic tiles feature many variations of the stracciatella or conglomerate stone look; with any colour used as the base or for the inclusions themselves.

Digital decoration also allows the tile designer total freedom to play with different sizes of inserts, so a single range can include two or more different sizes of fragment, so designers can play with, and combine, different finishes in the same colour.

From a decorative perspective these materials and finishes retain their classic look, but can be tweaked to lend surfaces a distinctly contemporary appearance.  Kitchens and bathrooms are still the focus of most of these terrazzo-effects, but these tiles have moved on from functionality, focusing instead on aesthetics, with colourful, eye-catching designs.  It is now possible to go for a total terrazzo look that even includes furniture.

The other dominant trends were concrete-effect tiles, white marbles and timber-effect tiles.  The latter continue to develop.  Cersaie 2017 saw thicker plank formats, that really allow grain and knot patterns to be used to maximum effect.  There were also large rectangular tiles featuring wood-grain patterns in plain colours: effectively painted boards in ceramic form.  Distressed and aged effects are also still popular. 

There was also increasing polarity between light Scandi-style wood species and darker, dramatic and burnt wood effects.  All in all, the wood-effect trend, including spin-offs like OSB-style tiles, still has some way to run.  And that is before you consider chevrons, parquet-forms, wood border tiles and all the other decorative manifestations of timber-effect tiles.  Watch this space!

Finally, geometric and 3D wall tiles have moved on.  The hexagon has been usurped by the triangle, the trapezoid, the diamond and the rhombus.  But the big news was tiles divided into simple geometric shapes in contrasting colours, glaze effects or textures, that can be arranged into different patterns by simple rotation.  A nightmare for the tiling contractor, but creative nirvana for the interior stylist.  More at

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